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Sebastian Vettel tests the Porsche 963

Sebastian Vettel tests the Porsche 963

Porsche has announced that four-time F1 champion, Sebastian Vettel, will test the Porsche 963 hypercar as part of a 36-hour test for Porsche Penske Motorsport ahead of the 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours.

The 36 year-old from Heppenheim, which is about 90 miles north-west of Stuttgart, has prepared for the test by meeting the team at its Mannheim base on March 14th and doing some miles on the sim the following day. Yesterday was his first real-life run in the physical car on track at Weissach – one of few times he has driven a race car with a roof.

Vettel excited ahead of the test

“I’m looking forward to testing the Porsche 963,” said Sebastian. “I’ve always followed other racing series and my curiosity for endurance events encouraged me to just give it a shot. I already got the chance to get a feel for the car during a rollout in Weissach, and I’m excited about the long run in Aragón.

“I’m looking forward to my time behind the wheel. It’ll definitely take an adjustment and some getting used to but everyone in the team is very open and helps me. This will be a new experience for me. We will then see what happens next in this respect – at the moment there are no further plans for the future.”

Alongside Sebastian for the test at the 3.3-mile Aragón circuit in north east Spain will be works drivers Matt Campbell, Michael Christensen, Fred Makowiecki, Kévin Estre, André Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor. The endurance test serves as preparation for the highlight of the season in Le Mans on 15/16 June. As the record holder, Porsche aims to secure its 20th outright victory at the Circuit des 24 Heures.

Porsche has had good fortune putting successful F1 drivers including Mark Webber and Nico Hulkenberg in its cars, but no Germans of late (not that there are many to choose from – although German-born Lotterrer did have a run out with Caterham in 2014), so a tie up with Vettel is excellent news. It is exciting on many levels, not least of which is the return of a potentially competitive Sebastian against his somewhat subdued F1 exit following two years with the Aston Martin Grand Prix team, now newly reinvigorated with Fernando Alonso on board.

It’s funny that, at 35, Vettel was seen as an elder in F1 where he eventually gained a reputation for being particularly empathetic towards young drivers, encouraging the highly competitive driver field to embody their emotions more deeply. “You cannot always be the best. But you can do your best,” as Vettel puts it.

I like the idea of this new-Seb personality integrated with some Porsche brand communications; the concept has a potential softness and emotionally considerate tone that I often think carmakers lack. I hope they take advantage of his genuine and caring nature as well as reawakening our awareness of his speed – that could lead to some very exciting storytelling and hopefully some race-winning history too.

Vettel is famously an avid historian and loves racing history, with a car collection including Mansell’s 1992 Williams FW14B F1 car, which he runs on sustainable fuel. Thoughts of former Porsche F1 pilots including Hans Herrmann, Edgar Barth and other drivers of that calibre are not far away today. We live in exciting times.

RIP Sabine Schmitz

RIP Sabine Schmitz

So sad to hear the news that the adorable Sabine Schmitz, Queen of the Nürburgring, has passed away from cancer aged just 51. A two-time winner of the Nürburgring 24 Hours and a former VLN champion, Sabine may be best remembered as the woman who beat Jeremy Clarkson in a van.

Sabine was born to hotelier parents in Adenau, in the shadow of the Nürburgring. The youngest of three girls, Sabine was raised in the Hotel am Tiergarten in the village of Nürburg, which is now home to the legendary Pistenklause restaurant. All three girls used to borrow their mother’s car to do laps of the ‘Ring and all three apparently tried racing, but it was Sabine who took it most seriously, eventually partnering with veteran BMW M3 driver, Johannes Scheid, to win the Nürburgring 24-Hours in both 1996 and 1997 and win the VLN championship in 1998 – a joint win with Johannes. She remains the only female driver ever to win the N24.

Racing could not pay the bills, so Sabine trained as a somellière and hotel manager, and married a fellow hotelier, with whom she ran a business in Pulheim: north-west of Cologne and 100 kms north of Nürburg. The marriage ended in 2000 and the newly-single Sabine returned to Nürburg, opening a bar called the Fuchsröhre (Foxhole) after one of her favourite parts of the circuit.

She also returned to the track, racing regularly and finding infamy as one of the drivers of the BMW M5 ‘Ring Taxis’. Sabine’s background made her a natural people person. Gifted with irresistible bartender humour, she had ample speed to match her wit, so it was only a matter of time before the motoring media would pick up on her talents. Recognition came in 2004, when BBC Top Gear visited the Nürburgring to test some new twin-turbo diesel Jaguar. Jeremy Clarkson was given the target time of a ten-minute lap, and Sabine was recruited to train him.

When Clarkson eventually managed a 9:59, and shot over the moon with delight, Sabine slapped him back down to earth with a derisory: “I could do that time in a van.” It was a memorable moment. The following year, Top Gear brought a bog-standard Transit (0 to 60 in 21 seconds) to the Nürburgring to give Sabine the chance to make good on her promise. She got within 9 seconds of Clarkson before admitting defeat, but the TV show exposed her to a vast audience. She became a regular fixture on Top Gear, which has been shown in 214 countries to an estimated weekly audience of some 350 million people at its peak.

Sabine did not stay in the pub trade too long on her second time around. She left the Foxhole in 2003 and formed Frikkadelli Racing with her partner, Klaus Abbelen (main image). The duo raced everywhere, running GT3s across Europe and in the Middle East, finishing third in the 2008 N24, beaten only by the two factory-backed Manthey Porsches that had won two previous N24s between them. Away from the circuit, Sabine also indulged her passion for horses, opening a stables in Barweiler – the Eifelranch am Ring.

In 2017, Sabine was diagnosed with a rare form of vulvar cancer. She experienced an adverse reaction to chemotherapy, which cut her options for treatment. Surgery was the only alternative and she had many operations in the years that followed. She did return to racing and promised to run in the 2020 N24, “as long as she was not on an operating table”. “I’m like an Eifel weed,” she told one interviewer, vowing to keep popping up.

Sabine Schmitz died from cancer on 16 March 2021, aged 51. That is no age for anyone to die, let alone someone like Sabine, who enchanted millions of people all over the world with her down-to-earth energy, passion and talent. She will be deeply missed by those who regard the Nordschleife as more than just asphalt. I look forward to raising a glass to Frau Schmitz at the Pistenklause and to celebrating her memory at the N24, some time in the future.


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Ferdinand Magazine is the personal blog of John Glynn, a writer, classic car and motorcycle valuations expert and court expert witness. To explore and enjoy more of my work, and to support the Ferdinand Porsche blog, you can:

Covid hits Nürburgring Porsche 24-Hour Squad

Covid hits Nürburgring Porsche 24-Hour Squad

Maximum flexibility is required to get the most out of life during Covid and Porsche has demonstrated impressive flexibility in a last-minute rejig of the squad for the 2020 Nürburgring 24-Hour on September 26th and 27th.

Following post-event coronavirus tests of Porsche’s Le Mans 24-Hour team, three team members tested positive for the virus. Weissach therefore decided that no team member from Le Mans should attend the Nurburgring 24-Hour, including the nine works drivers who took part.

The driver reorganisation has been further complicated by the fact that, since 2015, drivers have required the Ring Permit in order to participate in certain races on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, including the VLN Championship and the 24-Hour event.

The Ring Permit – or DMSB Permit Nordschleife to give it its proper name – is an additional licence to the regular national and international race licence. All N24 drivers must have a Category A permit, which requires taking part in at least two VLN Championship races, clocking up at least 18 laps and finishing in the top 75% of one’s class in both: no mean feat in this competitive series.

Filling a team for the prestigious 24 Hours of Nordschleife when the entire Le Mans 24 squad has been told to stay home can’t have been easy, and the Manthey Racing team has been most affected. The famous ‘der Grello’ green and yellow 911 will not race at the Nordschleife this year, so sadly no repeat of Kévin Estre’s epic pass on the grass from last year’s N24.

Speaking of grass, the revised driver lineup includes several veterans returned from the lush green slopes of brand ambassador pasture. Back come Timo Bernhard and Jörg Bergmeister alongside Earl Bamber, who has been ruled out of IMSA this weekend. Bernhard is running his first N24 in seven years. German youngster, Nico Menzel, arrives to support Sven Müller, Dennis Olsen and Klaus Bachler.

Approximately 30% of the 100 vehicles entered in the delayed 2020 Nürburgring 24 Hours will be Porsches. The officially-supported Porsche teams are:

KCMG (Porsche 911 GT3 R #18)
Earl Bamber, Jörg Bergmeister, Timo Bernhard, Dennis Olsen

KCMG (Porsche 911 GT3 R #19)
Josh Burdon (Australia), Edoardo Liberati (Italy), Alexandre Imperatori (Switzerland), Dennis Olsen

Huber Motorsport (Porsche 911 GT3 R #25)
Nico Menzel, Marco Holzer, Patrick Kolb (all Germany), Lorenzo Rocco di Torrepadula (Italy)

Frikadelli Racing Team (Porsche 911 GT3 R #30)
Klaus Abbelen, Alexander Müller, Robert Renauer (all Germany), Norbert Siedler (Austria)

Frikadelli Racing Team (Porsche 911 GT3 R #31)
Lance David Arnold, Lars Kern (both Germany), Mathieu Jaminet (France), Maxime Martin (Belgium)

Falken Motorsport (Porsche 911 GT3 R #33)
Christian Engelhart, Sven Müller, Dirk Werner (all Germany), Klaus Bachler (Austria)

Falken Motorsport (Porsche 911 GT3 R #44)
Klaus Bachler, Martin Ragginger (both Austria), Peter Dumbreck (Great Britain), Sven Müller

“The health and safety of our team members is our top priority,” said Fritz Enzinger, Vice President Porsche Motorsport. “That’s why the tough decision not to be represented at the Nürburgring by the drivers and employees who attended Le Mans was ultimately a no-brainer. Still, I’m glad that we found a quick solution with our customer teams and that we can compete on the legendary Nordschleife.”

“Our customer teams contest the Nürburgring 24 Hours with a completely new driver line-up, to continue the fight for Porsche’s 13th overall victory with the 911 GT3 R,” said Pascal Zurlinden, Director Factory Motorsport. “The later date of this year’s race means that weather conditions at the world’s most demanding racetrack are expected to be quite different to previous years. Given the lower number of entries and a strong GT3 contingent in the SP9 category, I’m anticipating a 24-hour sprint.”


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Porsche flies the Austrian flag at Le Mans 2020

Porsche flies the Austrian flag at Le Mans 2020

Today is the start of the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans. Like so much of life in 2020, this year’s motorsport season has been a challenge but it’s good to see racing at La Sarthe.

Porsche is fielding several entries in the GTE-Pro and GTE-Am categories. Leading the charge are the factory RSRs, numbers 91 and 92. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Stuttgart’s first win at Le Mans is the 91 car, painted in the red and white Porsche KG Salzburg racing colours of the Austrian national flag. The 92 car runs an identical livery, with black replacing the red.

Porsche drivers for Le Mans 2020

Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni share the wheel of number 91, with Frédéric Makowiecki supporting. This partnership has previously achieved two second-place finishes. In the sister car are the reigning World Endurance Champions: Michael Christensen and Kévin Estre, supported by Laurens Vanthoor, defending champion of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. This trio won the event last time out with a 911 RSR presented in Pink Pig livery, so the factory enters the race with its best foot forward.

About the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours

Racing at the 13.6km Circuit des 24 Heures is the highlight of the World Endurance Championship every year. Normally run in mid-June, this year’s race was postponed until September due to the coronavirus pandemic. The three-month postponement means different weather and light conditions.

“The fact that Le Mans is being held in September this year will have a huge impact on the race,” said Richard Lietz. “It gets dark earlier on Saturday and light much later on Sunday. We’ve never experienced such a ratio between day and night before at this 24-hour classic. What’s more, we’re facing very changeable weather. All of this promises an extremely thrilling race. Our tests in the lead-up to Le Mans went well and class victory is our clear goal.”

The 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours is the latest RSR’s first time at the world’s greatest long-distance circuit race. Cancellation of pre-race testing threw an additional spanner in the works. Most of the racetrack is public roads and conditions can change year to year, as hundreds of trucks and cars drive over the famous Mulsanne Straight daily on their way from Le Mans to Tours. The team had to set up the cars based on previous experience and this initially did not work out too well.

“We had a lot of work to do in first practice, as the setup that we’d worked out in advance didn’t really work at first,” said Alexander Stehlig, Head of WEC Operations for Porsche. We made many changes so that the drivers could get more comfortable with the handling of the car. Things went significantly better in the second practice session. We made it into the Hyperpole, but qualifying fifth and sixth there was not good enough.”

Things went much better in Hyperpole, as the number 91 car claimed pole position. Italy’s Gianmaria Bruni set the fastest lap at the wheel of the 91 Porsche 911 RSR with a time of 3:50.874 minutes. Michael Christensen claimed sixth place for the number 92. In GTE-Am, works driver Matt Campbell was the fastest 911, claiming the second grid spot in his class with the No. 77 Porsche 911 RSR fielded by Dempsey-Proton Racing, a mere five one-hundredths of a second off the top time.

Where to watch the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours

The 2020 Le Mans 24-Hours starts at 13:30 UK time today. Watch the race on Eurosport, BT Sport or via the WEC app. I found a free stream last year somewhere so will probably dip in and out of that while kicking around in the garage. Lots going on here at home, with kids finally about to head back to uni and the builders on site.


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RIP Hans Mezger

RIP Hans Mezger

Revered Porsche designer, Hans Mezger, has passed away at the age of 90. His career was spent exclusively at Porsche, where he oversaw many iconic developments, including the flat-six engine, the development of turbocharging, the 917’s flat-12 engine and the development of the successful 1.5-litre Formula 1 engine.

Born in 1929 in Ludwigsburg, just outside Stuttgart, Hans Mezger was the youngest of five children. The son of innkeeper parents, young Hans was captivated by aero engineering and motorsport.

His first experience of racing came in 1946, when he photographed Hans Stuck in a race for pre-war cars at Hockenheim. Continued fascination with racing led to studies in mechanical engineering at the Stuttgart Technical Colege (now the University of Stuttgart). Delayed entry to the course by a large influx of de-mobbed soldiers, he took a gap year to apprentice in the various arts of fabrication, exploring casting, machining and model making.

College transport was an NSU Lambretta, which was used right through the early years of his employment with Porsche in 1956, when the NSU was replaced by “an old and quite worn-out 356”.

Mezger said that he had twenty-eight job offers at the end of his college course, but Porsche was not in the pile. Keen to work in racing, he applied to the sports car manufacturer and got an interview. This was successful and he was initially directed towards the diesel engine programme. He made no secret of his desire to go racing and was moved to the engine calculations department.

Porsche looks back at Mezger’s career

The Porsche release on the death of Hans Mezger shares his career history:

Hans Mezger gained his first experience with the four-camshaft engine Type 547, developed a formula for calculating cam profiles and became part of Porsche’s first Formula 1 project in 1960. He was involved in the development of the 1.5-litre eight-cylinder Type 753 as well as the corresponding chassis of the 804.

His career included designing the world-famous “Mezger engine” for the 901 and 911 in the early 1960s. In 1965, Mezger was promoted to head of the department for race car design initiated by Ferdinand Piëch. The department was the key to a new quality and dynamism in motorsport for Porsche. It was an exciting, fascinating time in the mid-1960s. “Sometimes we also worked around the clock,” said Hans, “like in 1965 when we created the Ollon-Villars Bergspyder in just 24 days and shortly thereafter the 910.” With its construction of a tubular frame, fibreglass body and design for new Formula 1 tyre technology, it became the blueprint for all the race cars that were built in the years to follow.

Porsche also relied on this design principle for the development of the 917 in 1968. With the 917, the first overall victory for Porsche at Le Mans was now finally possible, and once again Ferdinand Piëch relied on the skilfulness of Hans Mezger, who was responsible for the overall construction of the vehicle and its 12-cylinder engine. The 917 dominated at Le Mans and in the World Sportscar Championship in 1970 and 1971.

In 1972 and 1973, and right from the start, the 917/10 and 917/30 showed good responsiveness even on the curvy stretches of the CanAm series, thanks to a novel exhaust turbocharging technology developed by Porsche itself. For the first time, turbocharging was successfully given a responsiveness that allowed racing cars and production vehicles to be used on all race tracks and public roads. A technology that makes Porsche a pioneer in this field and Mezger and his team brought to series production in 1974 in the form of the 911 Turbo. Many other victorious developments followed: for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the World Sportscar Championship and the US Indy series.

Perhaps the most outstanding project took off in 1981, when Ron Dennis and his McLaren racing team set out in search of a powerful turbo engine for Formula 1. In the end, Porsche was chosen and the decision was made to design and build a completely new engine, as well as to provide on-site support during the races. Again, Hans Mezger was the creative mastermind behind the 1.5-litre, V6 engine with an 80-degree bank angle, which would later produce more than 1000 PS. In 1984, Niki Lauda became world champion with it, and again in 1985, followed in 1986 by Alain Prost. The TAG Turbo won a total of 25 races, plus the two Constructors’ World Championships in 1984 and 1985. “This was a resounding success and also the most significant development contract for Porsche from an external company.

Mezger’s commitment to Porsche made him reject all offers from other manufacturers throughout his career and he still owned his 911 Carrera 3.0 in Grand Prix white – a coveted Porsche classic which has “his” engine. His loyalty and connection to Porsche was unbroken. He was available to journalists, technicians and interested fans as a discussion partner. The Porsche Museum hosted a celebration for his 90th birthday with family, friends and former companions. He accompanied Porsche at events, trade fairs and festivities until the very end.

A low profile in history

Mezger’s career is at the very heart of Porschelore. The engineer had a hand in pretty much everything until his retirement in 1993, but what is unusual is that his name has become widely known. Though Porsche has enjoyed the input of many great creative minds through its history, the company is not known for spotlighting individuals and allowing their names to be known in the way that Mezger’s became.

A look through the indices of serious Porsche literature shows scant mention of Mezger. “Excellence was Expected” mentions his name only twice across 1,500 pages: once in a photo caption and once in relation to cooling on Formula 1 engines. Paul Frère’s “Porsche 911 Story” again mentions Mezger only twice, both times in his capacity as head of engineering teams, rather than as a designer. Note that these books were written with substantial Porsche involvement.

Chris Harvey’s excellent “Porsche 911 in all its forms” has no mention of Mezger, nor does Ferry’s autobiography. So how do we read his importance?

While there is no doubt that Mezger’s enhanced profile is well-deserved, it is relatively recent and perhaps due in some part to the use of the Mezger name as a differentiator on 996 and 997 engines. The more reliable and higher power engines of the GT3 and Turbo models are now esteemed as Mezgers (by this logic, standard 996s and 997s must be non-Mezgers, but we’ll leave that stone unturned for now).

The long-running Porsche-Piëch feud and Stuttgart’s revisionist tendencies towards underplaying the role of Ferdinand Piëch in its history is another little throttle-push in favour of names such as Mezger, but no mention of Mezger in the story of Porsche would be complete without Piëch.

Hans Mezger and Ferdinand Piëch

Frère covers 911 engine development in detail, sharing how the programme started in the late 1950s under then Technical Director, Klaus von Rücker. Following the first unsuccessful engagement with Formula 1, Rücker left Porsche for BMW in 1962 and Hans Tomala was put in charge of everything to do with engineering on the 901 project.

An alumnus of Porsche’s tractor development team, Tomala was also responsible for engineering the 904. Harvey notes that Tomala’s first big decision for the 901/911 programme was to use the eight-cylinder F1 engine architecture as a basis for 901 engine development, rather than basing the six on Fuhrmann’s complex four-cylinder, which was being used in the 904. The second big decision was to use chain-driven cams.

While Harvey and Frère both note that Ferdinand Piëch was the engineer in charge of 911 engine development under Tomala from 1963, Porsche’s press release at the time of Piech’s death described his role as “an employee in the engine department”. Piëch apparently remained in this position until 1966, when Tomala was forced out over the handling of the SWB cars. Rather than introducing bodyshell changes that would allow production line workers to set the front strut angles, Tomala designed 11-kilo lumps of cast iron to be fixed to the 901’s front bumpers. While there is obviously much more to this story, Piëch replaced Tomala as development chief in 1966.

Once Piëch had control, the 911’s golden era – and the golden era of Porsche in racing – could begin. The 911 got a longer wheelbase, bigger engines with magnesium crankcases, lighter bodyshells and more. Simultaneous to 911 deveopment, Piëch developed the 908 and the 917. While there is little mention of Mezger in most of the history books, it should be clear that one man leant on the other and their partnership (along with the rest of their teams), became the stuff of legend.

Give thanks for Hans Mezger

However one views the story of Porsche, the role of Piëch and the countless unnamed engineers who contributed to the success of the sports car from Stuttgart, one cannot understate the importance of Mezger in the history of air-cooled Porsches, and it is right that his name is revered. As we live through the closing stages of the internal combustion era and prepare for a new automotive world, Mezger leaves an exceptional legacy in the story of great engine developments.

Before turning the key, all those who sit with a Mezger engine behind them should offer quiet thanks for what they are about to receive. You own a small part of a special history that will not be forgotten.

All credit to Hans – RIP.


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